In Iowa, we are about halfway through our morel mushroom season. With the warm weather we’ve had, it’s been the earliest season for morels we’ve seen in a long time.
Foragers are scrambling to get out after work and during the weekends to hit all the local state parks and personal “spots” in hopes of taking home hundreds of this prized fungus.
I don’t know what they like better, the taste, the hunt, or the bragging rights.
I have to admit, I’ve found myself right in the mix, hoping to find the “jackpot” for many years now. This year people have found pounds, others a few. Myself, I’ve been able to forage a couple dozen in one spot. Being 7 1/2 months pregnant with two little ones in tow, I think we’ve done okay.
I want more though, so I’ve been focusing this year on learning from the “pro’s.”
You know, the backwoodsman that claims to find hundreds every year. As enlightening as it is to learn from these people one thing you’ll find out really quickly is they will NEVER share their spot. So if you’re a newbie you can learn from them, but then you have to go at it alone.
I found that out the hard way. Always hoping to tag along with someone. Learn from experience.
Nope, this isn’t the game for that. So this year, I went out with confidence and realized there is so much more to foraging morel mushrooms than just searching in the woods.
There’s strategy in location and also rules of foraging mushrooms the right way so that they will continue to grow in your “spot” year after year. Can you see how this can become addicting.
Where do you go?
You can always ask people where you can find morels and they’ll give you pretty generic answers. This state park or near this place but they will NEVER reveal where they go.
This is the most difficult part of foraging for morels and has taken me a few years just to find one okay spot. (Don’t ask me, I won’t tell you where it’s at.) I’m still trying to find a new “spot” that I can return to year after year.
When finding a spot, here’s what you need to look for…
1. Elm trees. Specifically dead, bark falling apart, elm trees.
As the bark falls off the trees it nourishes the ground below it leaving nutrients that morels thrive in. The roots of a dead elm also bring nutrients to the soil around it. This is thought to advance the 5 year cycle it takes for a morel mushroom to grow.
One way to note a dead elm is the white snowy flesh left underneath the bark. Morels can be growing within a 15 foot radius of the tree.
Wherever there are elms that’s where you need to start.
You can try visiting state parks, however, they do get flooded with foragers.
What’s been working for me (hint, hint) is walking the bike trails. The bike trails in Iowa are great locations to walk off path look around and continue walking. They’re less visited and if you have small children, they can take their bikes, hunt with you, and continue along as well.
Here’s a good photo I found on flickr of a dead elm tree.
2. Dress Not To Impress
When going out into the woods dress appropriately.
- Good shoes that you don’t mind getting muddy.
- A ball cap. There are ticks in the woods.
- Long pants. There’s also poison ivy, thorns on bushes, and tall brush.
- A good thing about this time of year is there are not that many bugs out so wearing bug repellant is up to you.
3. The Hunt
The best time to go out hunting is after a good rain and the temperatures are right around 70 degrees. The soil is warm and moist which leads to perfect growing conditions for the morel.
Earlier this week was perfect, but the ground is now drying up so we’re hoping for a good rain tomorrow to keep the yellows popping.
There are different kinds of morels. The first to appear are small and gray. Those are followed by larger yellow ones. The season generally lasts 2-4 weeks.
The trick is to search low and slow. Using a stick or even getting down on your knees.
(My sister forgot her hat. She had to make sure to check her head for ticks immediately after leaving.)
15 feet in diameter around a dead elm is where they are most abundantly found. However, they can also be found in old apple orchards, in sandy river bottoms, near shrubs and under ash, aspen, oak, beech, maple, cottonwood or cherry trees or even pines.
If you find one, you’ll usually find more around them. So be careful where you step.
Also, if you find some morels in an area, return the next day. New ones literally pop up overnight.
One thing I learned from literally being scolded at is to always use a mesh bag to collect your morels. This allows the hundreds of thousands of spores on the caps to fall back to the Earth. Hopefully allowing more morels to grow in the same area for more years to come.
It takes time and patience to find morel mushrooms. Many of us newbies go out with the expectations of walking into the woods and finding them by the hundreds.
Really, some days you can go out and not even find one. It’s going to take time to find a spot, learn to “see” them, and then go out more than just one time per season.
However, the hunt is so much fun and if you do find a “spot,” take care of it. Allow those spores to fall back on the Earth and most importantly, don’t tell anyone where it’s at 😉
Do you go morel mushroom hunting? How long did it take you to find a good “spot?” Please share any tips as well